Mulberry Street, Jeff Fairbanks' debut album, won an American Music Center Recording Grant, and features Fairbanks' distinct compositions for big band, augmented with traditional Asian instruments, in his innovative and groundbreaking concoction of Asian folk music and modern Jazz. Existing recordings of this nature (traditional Asian fused with jazz) are very rare, and nearly unprecedented for an ensemble of this size. Jeff's ensemble, Project Hansori, features an uber-talented cast of 22 of some of the most in-demand and acclaimed jazz musicians today, including Linda Oh, Fred Ho, Remy LeBeouf, Erica von Kleist, and Sebastian Noelle, combined with traditional Asian instruments. Grammy-nominee Darcy James Argue produced the recording sessions.
The album’s centerpiece is the four-part suite, Mulberry Street (commissioned by the BMI Foundation Charlie Parker Composition Prize) which has its origins in Fairbanks’ multi-cultural experiences in Chinatown, NYC. Fairbanks explains in depth, “I chose for inspiration a fascinating corner of New York that I have become very acquainted with through the past year or so. Mulberry Street in Manhattan connects Little Italy on the North with expanding Chinatown on the South. An old routine occurs daily on the Chinatown end of this bustling street. There are a row of Chinese-run funeral parlors, while conducting Buddhist ceremonies, maintain the Western brass band tradition established by their previous Italian operators. As a player in the brass band, being a direct participant and observer to the process, this unique blend of cultures caught my interest. The otherwise-unlikely cultural fusion is a great example of an ‘only in New York’ experience. Sometimes both a Western band and a traditional Chinese band will perform in the same ceremony, though not in collaboration, and often playing different songs against each other. Though music in Western funerals mainly serves to comfort the bereaved, in Buddhist funerals it can serve to scare away evil spirits, and so ease the path of the deceased into the afterlife. I suppose funerals on Mulberry Street have a little of each purpose. Rather than to create a reenactment of one of these events, I chose to create a piece influenced by the very different sounds and themes heard there. My attempt was to write an abstract impression of the experience on my ears, simply titled ‘Mulberry Street’.”
“Hansori” means "one sound" in Korean, and reflects Fairbanks' vision of combining various cultural elements into an orchestral jazz context. Beyond Fairbanks’ formal training in jazz and Western classical music, he has amassed a great deal of experience being immersed in the music of cultures less familiar to him. Fairbanks sang for years in a Gospel choir at a predominantly Hispanic and African-American church. Later, he played extensively in various Salsa bands and was immersed in Spanish-language culture in South Florida. He married a Korean musician (the cellist Heun Choi Fairbanks), and after moving to New York , joined the orchestra at a Korean church where he still attends. He is also involved in the local Korean musical community. He has visited Korea and toured in Japan, seeking out the live indigenous music in each country, and was subsequently “blown away.” Also, playing in NYC Chinatown funerals for several years now has also greatly exposed the artist to Chinese music and culture. Fairbanks’ music and life have been greatly influenced by each of these cultures and experiences, and each of them informs his voice as a composer, particularly the Asian traditional music.
Since 2007 the Jeff Fairbanks Jazz Orchestra (now named Project Hansori) has performed in NYC venues including Flushing Town Hall, LaGuardia Community College, St. Peter's Church, the Brooklyn Lyceum, New York Presbyterian Church, the Mean Fiddler, and the Brooklyn Tea Lounge. For logistical reasons the group declined invitations to perform at the 2009 Jazz Utsav festival in Mumbai, India, the 2011 Beijing International Tourism Festival, the 2011 Shanghai Tourism Festival, and the 2011 Luoyang Heluo Culture and Tourism Festival in Fall 2011.